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BOCC hopes to use for WIP

By MEGHAN RUSSELLStaff writer

The latest report from scientists studying the Mill Creek watershed shows a negative trend with increasing algae and decreasing oxygen levels, and on Tuesday the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners suggested using the watershed as a starting point for implementing a federally mandated bay restoration plan.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons has assessed the status of water quality in the Mill Creek watershed for the past 23 years, initiated by the BOCC in response to rapid development. In 2009 the study expanded to include three creeks, in 2010 six more creeks were included and last year four more creeks were added. This week the board approved $26,055 be put toward monitoring Mill Creek from mid-May to mid-September, and 10 others in June, July and August.

CBL’s Walter Boynton said 40 sites were monitored in 2011 and the news is that “it’s not very good.”

“We’ve got clearly a problem with over-enrichment when it rains. We also have a problem with enriched groundwater,” he said. “There’s a long-term record now that shows us some long-term patterns that are not always good.”

Boynton said he believes nitrogen to be the biggest contributor to the over-enriched groundwater, which has led to “very intense algal blooms” and depleting oxygen levels.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for oxygen is 5 milligrams per liter, he said, then he showed a graph depicting several instances when St. Leonard Creek contained less than 2 milligrams of oxygen per liter.

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) praised Boynton’s work, calling him “one of Calvert County’s treasures,” and suggested focusing the county’s initial efforts for the EPA’s mandated Watershed Implementation Plan on the Mill Creek watershed, to use it as a basis for evaluating whether the WIP model recommendations will yield results. He asked Boynton to help the county prioritize how it implements the WIP, which is estimated to cost Calvert $1.3 billion.

“We can’t eat this elephant all in one bite,” Slaughenhoupt said.

“Focusing on a place where we know there’s a problem would make some sense,” Boynton agreed.

Ideas the commissioners floated include replacing septic systems along Mill Creek with nitrogen-reducing systems, connecting more homes on septics to wastewater treatment plants and educating the public about which fertilizers are best to use for the environment.

Boynton said he suspects septics have led to Mill Creek’s decreasing health.

“I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t a very big part of the problem,” he said.

However, Boynton also said seeing WIP results “is going to take some time.” Because some groundwater could take decades to reach the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries, it could be 50 or even 100 years before results of reducing septic system discharge are recorded.

But the EPA wants to see results by 2017, and again in 2025, when counties are expected to meet their target nutrient loads.

“The whole model is set up to fail. It’s making me crazy,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said.

Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) told Boynton the board may ask him to return for a future work session on the county’s WIP development.

mrussell@somdnews.com